Album Review: Warmer – Wooden Box with Strings

Warmer is the project of Nature Strip’s John Encarnacao – Backseat reviewed their last EP, Past Pacific, back in 2018. More recently the other main songwriter in The Nature Strip, Pete Marley, released ‘Savoury-toothed Tiger’ under the name Marveline which I reviewed last last month.

With the release of Warmer’s new album ‘Wooden Box with Strings’ due out next week, one thing is clear: both together and apart, Encarnacao and Marley are prodigious talents. And when apart, their output is quite different – Marley’s more rock-based indie pop is contrasted by Encarnacao’s more organic and eclectic approach.

‘Wooden Box with Strings’ is folk-infused indie with some surprising acoustic elements that make it quite unique. There is an inherent classicism to the sound – Warmer utilises a variety of traditional instruments, recorded live with no special effects: raw unadorned music which serves to highlight the pure musicianship prevalent throughout the album. And which allows the songwriting skills come to the fore.

The percussion throughout the album is a powerful and pervading element of the songs, along with the splashes of instruments that appear and disappear just as quickly. The title track captures this with its surreal lyrics about someone living in a piano, punctuated by sounds that somehow manages to evoke this strange tale. ‘Cry For The Moon’ is similarly a wild and eclectic percussive ride with Bowie-esque vocals.

Second track, ‘Fishes Swim and Corals Grow’ is an epic highlight with its recurring guitar riff and Encarnacao’s yearning voice and sparkling back up singers (Mandy Pearson and Zoe Carides). The song, for me, echoes a pastoral, bucolic theme across the album as a whole, no doubt encouraged by the sweeping strings and crisp, punchy acoustic guitars. All through a slightly surreal aspect.

‘Got Older Today’ has wild and frantic violin and Hammond Organ sounds that are incredible. Encarnacao jokes:

…violinist Emily Wolfe, a folk fiddle legend in Tasmania, went all Scarlet Rivera for us. This was followed by Dave calling on his colleague Matt Boden to play Hammond. He plied him with whiskey and said “imagine you’re playing with Dylan and The Band and the acid kicks in around the first chorus”. This brilliant, unhinged Hammond part (a real Hammond, mind) plays chicken with my equally wayward Telecaster part.

It is really hard to define the sounds in this album – there are elements of wild psychedelia in the mode of The Flaming Lips (‘Blackboard Sky’), there are Dylan-esque moments and even hints of Damon Albarn from Blur. “New Thing’ is a prog rock experimental blast that is immediately followed by a trippy and mesmerising ‘Fire Engine’.

‘You Broke The Wheel’ is a gorgeous pop song with the acoustic instruments adding a crystalline and soft bed below the warm, melancholic vocals. It has all the deep, aching emotions of Beck in his ‘Sea Change’ phase.

Warmer’s pop sensibilities come to the fore in the closing track ‘Get So High I Can’t Get Down’, a swinging sixties of a song that is so upbeat and joyous with its backing vocals and inherent humour.

Encarnacao says of the recording:

I got the opportunity to head south to Hobart and record with an inspiring guy called Dave Carter. I was away from the musicians I’d usually work with, and Dave had connections to a bunch of great people, many students or ex-students of the Tasmania Conservatorium, which was where we were working. This led to late nights and early mornings scoring string parts and recording the string quartet for three tracks in one session. So “Wooden Box With Strings”, “Fishes Swim and Corals Grow” and “Cry For The Moon” go some way to realising my 1970s singer-songwriter fantasies.

This is unadorned, raw and celestial music that explores sounds and instruments, experiments and innovates in a creative milieu. Quite beautiful. The album will be out through the usual download/streaming sites but you can sneak a copy from the link below now:

Feature Photograph: Zoe Carides

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